INSTAGRAM FITNESS: A DARK HORSE?

ARTICLE BY SINDHUJAA FOR BUSINESS WORLD MAGAZINE (WELLBEING COLUMN)

Is your fitness advice coming from the same celebrities selling you circulation-choking corsets, silicon bodies or drug scandals ? Are you working yourself into a frenzy with ‘The top 20 exercises for a bubble-butt’, by an Instagram celebrity famous for only one body part, who probably didn’t finish high school and is oblivious even to the names of those muscles and their function! Just saying, if your car needs repairing, you would take it to the mechanic, not to the model advertising the car! The odds wouldn’t be in your favour! Instagram is a playground of irresponsible influencers, pushing dubious (sometimes harmful) diet and fitness products, sexualisation and dangerous body standards at you. There are always two sides to every coin, and while Instagram can be a great place for free learning and daily motivation, it is also turning into a health trap – for your body and mind. It easily hands you lifestyle inspiration when you look in the right places, but there are just as many half-baked tips and dangerous messages being liberally doled out on the platform. A poll on Sheroes, India's largest online community of women, revealed that a shocking 46% would take diet/fitness advice from Instagram celebrities. Doctors, health experts and seasoned fitness enthusiasts were amongst the 54% who cautioned against it. According to a report by UK’s Royal Society for Public Health, Instagram is the worst social media platform for people’s mental health, inducing anxiety, depression, body image and self-identity issues. Millennials especially belittle the fact that their favourite Instagram influencers almost always Photoshop, filter and substantially curate their posts. The bodies you are looking at are more often than not – results of plastic surgery, steroids or malnutrition – and not made naturally, despite endless pictures at the gym. Jenay Rose is a yoga and meditation teacher, an Instagram influencer. She recently posted about suffering from Social Anxiety herself. She revealed she often had to fake the status of her well-being, to fill her feed. “People judge you based on a small image in a tiny box. They see a split-second of your life, and spin both your story and theirs around it!” So many of our social media celebrities suffer from health issues, while happily sharing health advice with the world! Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, hormonal imbalances, mental health issues etc. are on a rampage behind-the-camera. Most such influencers never come out with this. They have a commercial imperative to sell you the perfect life. You may not realise that under the assumption of ‘connecting’ with inspiration, you are scrolling through hundreds of camouflaged advertisements a day. It is an echo chamber of unsubstantiated trends, fads and cheap products (such as 3-day weight-loss teas, for which the Kardarshians were recently slammed) – wrongly associated with true wellness. These quick-fix ‘solutions’ being pedalled, are part of a multi-billion dollar market. The body looks different at different times. Photography & videography effects aside, the body varies with menstruation cycles, daily activity, meals, minor illness such as fever etc. Not all Instagram #fitspo celebrities point that out. Digital manipulation and distorted reality rules Instagrammers lusting for fame. Only a handful of influencers are willing to share their REAL stories with the world. Amongst Instagrammers known for personal disclosure, ‘@DiaryOfAFitMommy', ‘@EmilySkye' etc. have been candidly discussing the mind-boggling effects of posture, flexing, lighting, filters, photography and smart clothing! Cassey Ho of Blogilates, one of the most popular online fitness celebrities, also brings a refreshing take to the table. She points out that ‘ideal body’ standards that society imposes has been changing like fashion trends! Why would you succumb to the pressures of changing your body like you change old clothes?! One day, the trend is size-zero. The next day, it is voluptuous curves! And the next, it’s all about muscle! Women especially, need to get a grip on themselves, and learn to respect and love their bodies. Focus on staying in the health spectrum rather than struggle over shape and size specifications. Divya Jagannathan (name changed*), a software engineer in Bangalore, picked up a diet plan from an Instagram influencer. She lost an abnormal amount of weight in a short time, her periods stopped, she lost her sex drive and sleep, and suffered from chronic fatigue. This is the potential result of fads. Wrong dieting instruction and mindless workouts are damaging. Handing out diet/health plans without education and licensing is a legally punishable offence! L Suressh Kumar, a colleague and celebrity trainer - founder of Fitness Solutions in Bangalore says, “There are 3 factors to keep in mind before taking tips from an Instagram influencer: 1) Check credentials, achievements and client results. Scrolling through comments can expose several disturbing gaps in their expertise. 2) Take into account your current fitness status, medical conditions and fitness goals. Following a body-builder when you want to be a marathon runner is stupidity, since training methodology is different. Its always better to consult a licensed wellness expert before launching into a new fitness/nutrition program. 3) Keep in mind that the successful athletes you are following have been working on their bodies for several years, while you might have been on the bandwagon for just a couple of months. Its unrealistic to expect your body to look like them!” The cardinal rules for holistic health remain regular exercise (intense workouts to be monitored by experts, especially if you are new to it), variety of whole and nourishing foods and ample sleep. And you will never possess a healthy body without a healthy mind! Processing stress and anxiety in an intelligent way, staying focused on health rather than just looks, is pivotal to self-worth and progress. Instagram glamour can lure people away from safe, evidence-based help, especially in times of need. This isn’t to claim that ALL programs on Instagram are worthless. There are thousands of people who have followed influencers like The Tone It Up girls (who happen to hold degrees in exercise science) and BJ Gaddour (CSCS & Men's Health Director), sharing sound health and fitness content on their social platforms. There is also value in the low costs and community support that these offer. The message here is, individuals need to CHOOSE whom they follow more carefully. Verify their qualifications before handing over your health and happiness on a platter to them! An outpouring of likes and testimonials don’t suffice. Real knowledge credentials and experience are required, for safety. Seeking out genuine, professional care is particularly important if you have any medical concerns. And it’s just as important to ‘listen to your body’ while training. The moment any dangerous unease is felt in your body, either due to diet or exercise, it’s time to stop and scrutinize. Not just scrunch it up and keep going because ‘they have abs and they swear by this’! There is an epidemic of unreality on Instagram, and it could be causing you serious harm. There is no sense in blaming the medium for manipulative content and messages. This is a world of increasing digitization and virtual personalities. It is up to each of us to make informed and conscious decisions in letting internet stars take over our lives! By Sindhujaa Kumar, MD(A.M) CEO, Sai Sindhujaa Wellness Ventures

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